M. Zuhdi Jasser is a man on a mission. He identifies himself as a devout and practicing Muslim, and no one, including those Muslims who disagree with him, can dispute that. He’s a medical doctor in Phoenix, but his passion for the past six years has been to spread the word that the politicalization of Islam and those who believe in that politicalization, is a grave danger to the United States and the rest of the world. He does that as the founder and president the Pheonix-based American Islamic Forum for Democracy. He writes prolifically (see his recent Huff-Po post on Shari’a law here) and gives talks across the country.
It isn’t a popular message and even speaking before a fairly friendly crowd in Tucson Sunday, Jasser was questioned roundly. Appearing before about 100 mostly 60-somethings at a Center for Inquiry group meeting, Jasser preached his gospel of separation of mosque and state, saying that’s the only way religious Islam can be practiced in freedom. This separation, he said, is threatened by the Muslim Brotherhood, whom he contends has a strong toe-hold in the U.S. (The MB’s official site is here, and some history about the group from other sources is here.) Jasser says the MB lays in wait until Muslims are a majority of the country and then, according to Jasser, the rules of engagement will shift, and the MB’s goal of establishing an Islamic nation-state will crank into high gear.
It may be all fear-mongering, and some of those in attendence said it was. But I’d just finished reading “Infidel” by Ayaan Hirsi Ali, and some of what Jasser was saying rang true for me. There is a radical fringe group of Muslims who want nothing more than to take over the world and have us all move back to a third century reading of the Quran. They want a theocracy, and they are willing - Jasser says - to work patiently until that is brought to pass. Or, as 9-11 appeared to teach us, they will work violently to bring it to pass. (Best quote of the talk: “You’re helping the Muslim Brotherhood every time you fill up with gas … remember 15 of the 19 hijackers were from Saudi Arabia.”)
By all estimates, only about 1 percent of Muslims are radical, but as one Imam told me a few years ago, “That’s still about a million people who are really angry at the West.” Radical Islamists read the Quran literally and believe this world is nothing compared to the world to come, so they have no problem hastening this world’s end.
Jasser is a reformist Muslim, one who believes much of the Quran was written for a specific people at a specific time. He think Muslim women need equal rights, that Sharia law is “horrific” and that the government really, really needs to stay out of our life. One would think he’d be in good company with groups like the Council on American-Islamic Relations, but he’s not. He doesn’t like them, and they don’t much care for him, according to Ahmed Rehab, the executive director of CAIR-Chicago and a spokesperson from the group’s national office.
“The problem with Zuhdi is this conspiracy of Muslims laying low ready to take over the country,” Rehab said in a phone interview from Chicago. “Its an extremely irresponsible reading of Islam. To say so runs against logic - there are all these families here organized, laying low. It makes no sense. We’re here just like everyone else, and we’re working like other minority groups to attain our rights. … Our position is that there is a minority of radical Muslims who are adverse to democracy and our freedoms here and we are working to educate against that position.”
Rehab, who said he debated Jasser in a PBS special a number of years ago regarding a film AIFD made, said CAIR doesn’t want a theocracy and that “our only struggle is for equal opportunity, like any minority…. We make the same observation (as Jasser) that there is a radical group out there, but the problem is he extrapolates that minority radical onto the mainstream.”
Jasser did do that Sunday, roundly saying that CAIR and other Muslim American groups are “in the dark” or “blind” about how the Muslim Brotherhood is infiltrating mosques in the U.S. He even claimed that the Muslim American Society is “the Muslim Brotherhood in the U.S.” So, I guess the question is, who to believe? A lone voice crying in the wilderness who believes his religion is wonderful but “political Islam” is a major problem, or the spokespersons for the Muslim civil rights organizations in the U.S. who say Jasser is playing to neo-cons? What do you think?